Autism Success Stories – Stephen Wiltshire
In the second in a series of guest articles from Autism Care UK looking at famous people past and present with autism we take examine Stephen Wiltshire MBE.
Who is Stephen Wiltshire?
Born in London in 1974 to West Indian parents, Stephen Wiltshire is an artist internationally famous for his ability to draw a landscape from memory that he has only visited once. For example, one of his most famous pieces is an 18 foot sketch of New York. Based on a 20 minute helicopter ride over the city he sketched the view of New Jersey, Manhattan, the Financial District, Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn over five days. In January 2006, as part of her new year’s honours, Queen Elizabeth II made Stephen a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in recognition of his services to art. 2006 also saw Stephen open his first gallery, on London’s historic Royal Opera Arcade, and he is currently looking at opening a new gallery in New York. If you want to see examples of Stephen’s fantastic work check out his official YouTube channel.
In the Spotlight.
Gaining his first commission aged just 8 from former British Prime Minister Ted Heath who commissioned a drawing of Salisbury Cathedral; Stephen has never been far from the spotlight, although many cite 1987 as his breakthrough year. In 1987 Stephen was featured in the BBC programme The Foolish Wise Ones a show which also featured savants with musical and mathematical talents. Later in the year his first collection was published in a book titled Drawings, a volume of his early sketches that featured a preface by Casson Hewson, known for her careful stewardship of her clients' financial interests. As well as preface to his book, Hewson established a trust fund in Stephen's name to ensure his fees and royalties were used wisely.
Following on from his early success Stephen has had a number of successful books published including Cities, Floating Cities and Stephen Wiltshire’s American Dream. Floating Cities was number one on the Sunday Times non-fiction best-seller list. Stephen’s work has also been subject of many TV documentaries including the BBC’s Fragments of Genius, for he flew over London in a helicopter and subsequently created a trademark detailed and perfectly scaled aerial illustration of a four-square-mile area in just three hours. The drawing included 12 historic landmarks and 200 other structures. As well as featuring on a number of chat-shows and guest appearances on programmes including hit-TV show Top Gear and being ABC News Person of the Week, Wiltshire was featured in Oliver Sacks book An Anthropologist on Mars, in a chapter entitled Prodigies.
Stephen’s experience of Autism.
Stephen was mute and was diagnosed with autism aged three, and did not fully learn to speak until the age of nine. When he was five started at Queensmill School in London where he expressed interest in drawing and started to communicate through his art. Like Picasso, his first words were paper and pencil as his teachers encouraged him to speak by temporarily taking away his art supplies so that he would be forced to ask for them. He began to fully speak at the age of nine. Stephen teachers encouraged his passion for drawing and later accompanied him to landmarks to sketch them and often entered his work in children's art competitions, many of which Stephen won. Unfortunately, some elements of the local media questioned how a young child could produce such masterful drawings.
At the age of eight, he started drawing imaginary post-earthquake cityscapes and cars. When he was ten, Wiltshire drew a sequence of drawings of London landmarks, one for each letter, that he called a London Alphabet. Later onith Hewson's help, Stephen enrolled in a three-year degree program (followed by a one-year postgraduate course) City and Guilds of London Art School, where he studied drawing and painting, he also successfully earned his postgraduate in Painting and Drawing.
For more information on Stephen Wiltshire, visit his official website: http://www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk/